Codex Chaos Space Marines – A Review

Following on from my fluff post about my WIP Dark Knights I get to review the brand new Codex Chaos Space Marines, courtesy of my awesome sponsor, Firestorm Games. I’ve attempted to collect a Chaos Space Marine army a few times over the years and always ran out of steam because, ultimately, I didn’t care about the army I was collecting, either from a fluff or modelling point of view.

So when I heard that Chaos Space Marines were going to be the first big release on the heels of the 6th edition rules I was intrigued to see which direction they’d take things as the previous codex was utter balls. The new models were encouraging although the Heldrake and the Fiends are a little love/hate.

The Codex is, visually, utterly and completely gorgeous. In full colour it’s crammed full of fresh artwork and the cover embossed which is a nice touch albeit done slightly on the cheap as they’d not bothered to line the inner cover properly.

One of the Codex’s biggest advantages is that it has a tremendous amount of fiction to draw on in the form of the Horus Heresy series. This has two profound effects. The first is that it is the richest and most coherent history in any Chaos Space Marine Codex ever written. The second is that it finally conveys the tragedy of the Heresy. You may think I’ve taken leave of my senses but when you get beneath the skin of the betrayal it’s about a son starved of his father’s love as it is one made vainglorious by his praise. Of rivalries, manipulations and abuses long past but never forgotten. And, ultimately it’s about brothers killing brothers but, worst of all, a father forced to kill his most beloved son.

That said, the Codex makes it quite clear that although the Heresy is a tragedy, what follows is a horror. A never-ending ever worsening horror. With each passing millennia the depravities unleashed on the material universe worsens and it’s splendidly illuminated in the Codex. As I say, for the first time I feel like I really understand the Chaos Space Marines. It’s such an important clarification because it opens up Chaos Space Marines and allows gamers usually put off by the ‘mindless slaughter’ personae of the traitor legions to find or create a niche for themselves and still collect a diverse and interesting force.

The army list, being the first proper 6th edition list may cause some grumbles. It may also cause grumbles from Chaos players who liked how unbalanced you could make their armies with the previous edition and Space Marine players will grumble because Chaos Space Marines still got lots of the same stuff as they do plus all the mad stuff for being baddies.

As a well established Space Marine player I’d always somewhat sided with the last point but, as the saying goes, there’s no zealot like a convert. The army list is ace. It’s not ace because they’ve made it more mental but actually made it less so in a very important way. If you were to flick open your Codex Space Marine book to the army lists you’ll see that the Chaos Lord, Dark Apostle, Sorcerer and Warpsmith have the exact same profiles as their loyalist brothers. Equally Chaos Space Marines, Terminators and Chosen are all the statistical counterparts as well. Even the Helbrute which has replaced the Dreadnought (a new multipart model on the way at last – huzzah!) is essentially exactly the same.

Which is absolutely how it should be. Now, before you send the cultists round and have me offered up as a human sacrifice there’s a very good reason for this. Space Marines are Space Marines. There is only so far their physical or martial prowess can develop without…wait for it…outside intervention. Enter the Chaos Gods. Aside from special characters up the arse you can also give characters and units rewards, marks, icons etc that all augment their performance in some way.

A lord is only 65 points. No it’s not a typo. But they come with bugger all and they don’t get an invulnerable save for free and the one they can pay points for isn’t as good as the Iron Halo. However, they can also take a raft of other nasty upgrades, like Ichor Blood, and Marks of Chaos which augment them in a specific way either making them more choppy, harder to wound or faster on their feet. It also makes the associated elite traitor unit (Khorne Berzerkers, Thousands Sons, Plague Marines or Noise Marines) a troop choice rather than elite. Chaos Lords can be heavily augmented but the points will tot up and will bring them in line with their loyalist opposite number. Which is exactly as it should be.

If memory serves making the above units troop choices is no different from the previous edition but it’s important because it allows you to either take a legion specific or god specific force or a mismatched warband with an undivided lord at its head. If I’m honest the undivided player gets a bit of a rough deal as they don’t really get anything in the way of cool upgrades beyond the stuff that every one else gets. The upside is you have more points to spend on blokes and numbers is everything in 6th edition.

Chaos units are cheaper in most respects and you can take more of them in units Chaos Space Marines which will be lethal in 6th edition as they are both simultaneously elite but capable of mobbing, to a certain degree. Some may question the logic of making Chaos Space Marines 13 points each but having thought on it for a couple of days the 3 points difference between loyalist and traitor marines is fair because they don’t get Know No Fear. Which is a massively underrated special rule as it pretty much requires your opponent to wipe out a squad entirely because otherwise they’ll just keep coming back for more. They can also never be wiped out if they lose an assault because they automatically rally. It’s a very very useful special rule. And Chaos Space Marines don’t get it. Which is why the larger unit sizes will be so useful.

Cultists are awesome. There’s not much to say here. They’re cheap Guardsmen, basically, for a point less save which is rarely used anyway. And they can come in units of 35. Which is mental. Finally Alpha Legion players will be able to take the army they were always meant to. They may not like it because they’ll be spending points on what are little more than meat shields but that’s not my fault.

The usual suspects are back; possessed, chosen and Obliterators but all have been made more balanced but they can still spontaneously grow assault cannons so they’re going to be absolute monsters and yes I’ll but getting some. Many of them. Because they’re tough and vehicles are shit. Speaking of shit who sculpted the Mutilators needs to taken out the back of GW head office and shot. They are the most sinfully poor models I’ve ever seen come out of the Games Workshop since the Daemonhost models.

I could almost forgive the utterly poo sculpting if the unit made sense. What possible use is a slow and purposeful close combat unit?

There’s also new Raptors out which can also become Warp Talons. Quite possibly my favourite new unit. Granted, a little pricy on points but they’re daemonic, have lightning claws everywhere and can blind units when they deep strike which will massive prolong their life expectancy. And they look AWESOME. Essentially they’re the equivalent of the Vanguard Veterans and although they don’t have heroic intervention the fact that they get lots of things for free actually puts them on par.

The other new units are daemon engines. Specifically the Maulerfiend, Forgefiend and the Heldrake. The models will be reviewed in the next few days (I do spoil you) but for now let’s focus on the rules. Basically, they’re nasty. The They Will Not Die special rule allows them to recoup Hull Points. This is horrid. Daemonforge allows you to re-roll failed wound and armour penetration rolls. This is also horrid. The Forgefiend has Fleet and the Maulerfiend gets to Move Through Cover. Which is just mental. Granted they’re only BS & WS 3 but their points are comparative to the Helbrute. Which does make you wonder why you’d take one. That said the Helbrute is cheap and cheap to upgrade. Plus it’s initiative 4 to the Fiend’s 3 which does give it a clear advantage.

However, the game breaker of this edition is the Heldrake. Yes its armour is 12, 12, 10 and it’s only BS & WS 3 but it has Meteroic Descent which allows it to make a strength 7 vector strike. Which is nasty. But where it gets silly Is, for no extra points, you can swap the Hades Autocannon (which is nasty) with a Baleflamer which is a strength 6, AP 3 template weapon. Which hits automatically. Because it’s a template weapon. So on average you’ll mang 6 Space Marines a turn whilst moving up to 32 inches whilst benefitting from a 1 in 72 chance of being taken out in a 6 turn game in return. And all for a completely reasonable 170 points.

Between the lush background and a sensible army list – at last – it’s a fantastic book and I’m genuinely excited about collecting my Dark Knights. The codex is of the new hard back range so it’s noticeably more expensive, but it’s also full colour and a better paper stock so actually, and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s worth it.

Codex Chaos Space Marines is available from Firestorm Games priced £27.00.